Miniseries vs Limited Run vs Event Drama?

American networks try explain the difference between their oh-so-confusing terms.

2013-11-07_1026In Australia there are often questions about how some shows are branded as Series drama and others are Miniseries.

Usually these questions get back to the way producers have submitted to Screen Australia for funding. Sea Patrol for instance, was actually a Miniseries despite the fact it had episodic plots. So was Rescue Special Ops. To qualify, the scripts must include an ongoing arc, even if it is in the background, so to speak. Miniseries are also worth higher dram points for quota than Series drama.

In 2008 the AFI Awards had to recognise more short-run dramas were being produced at 6 hours, especially by the ABC, and bowed to pressure not to see shows like East of Everything, Bed of Roses and East West 101 compete against long-form dramas including Sea Patrol and City Homicide. Instead they competed in the Miniseries and Telemovie categories.

In the US we frequently see -and are puzzled by- Dramas competing competing in Miniseries award categories. American Horror Story, for instance was a Miniseries in the Golden Globe Awards but House of Cards was a Drama.

Now the situation has become more complex, with newer terms such as Limited Run and Event Dramas (although awards haven’t yet bowed to that kind of pressure).

The Hollywood Reporter has asked some network CEOs to please explain: what’s the definition of these terms.

Here are some of their confusing answers:

  • Michael Lombardo, HBO: It depends which Emmy category you can be competitive in. (Laughs.)
  • David Nevins, Showtime: You forgot the other key [category]: “It’s a miniseries — oh wait, now it’s a series.”
  • John Landgraf, FX: “Miniseries” is tainted. It became synonymous with this big, cheesy melodrama that would galvanize people back when the networks were in that business.
  • Charlie Collier, AMC: Whatever Landgraf said.
  • Eileen O’Neill, Discovery: “Limited” can be anywhere from three to eight episodes; it means it’s not coming back. A miniseries tends to be three hours or three nights.

You can read more from other CEOs here.

3 Responses

  1. A “Limited Series” is limited in the number of episodes ordered, but not the number of seasons. Hostages, Sleepy Hollow, The Following and Under the Dome were classed as such because their orders were capped at 13 episodes per season as opposed to the traditional 22. Networks will renew a limited series if it is a success with similar “limited” episode orders. If cancelled, networks will simply spin the term “limited series” to avoid bad press.

    The term “miniseries” is typically applied to a show that is only intended to span one season regardless of its ratings, and generally also has a limited episode order.

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